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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was stellar in an overtime loss against the Buffalo Sabres last Saturday. Some teammates have noticed he seems more locked-in of late.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

For the past half-decade, Carey Price has been the consensus choice as the NHL's finest goaltender.

Since the 2013-14 season, he has won 110 of his 173 starts – the best winning percentage among regular No. 1 goalies – while losing less than 27 per cent of those in regulation. He has the highest save percentage over that span and has allowed the fewest goals per game.

There's a reason the Montreal Canadiens goalie's likeness is plastered all over this weekend's NHL all-star festivities.

But since the beginning of December, he has been well short of the pinnacle.

The 29-year-old isn't unduly bothered by it: "You can't win the Stanley Cup in January," he observed last week.

Quite so. But, there are signs his game is returning.

There was the heroic performance in an overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres this past Saturday, followed by a commanding win over the Calgary Flames – which should have been a shutout and indeed was for almost an hour at 59:59.

Price's teammates have markers to indicate he's on his game and they have become more apparent recently.

It's not so much a function of what he's doing as much as what he isn't doing.

"It's his general demeanour. When he's really locked in, he just looks like he's not even trying," winger Paul Byron said.

"He's always technically sound, but there's an extra smoothness, I'd say. It gets almost impossible to score against him, even in practice."

Practice matters for any hockey player, but it's especially true of a position in which millimetres can make the difference.

It's probably not a coincidence Price's resurgence has taken place in a period when there's been more time to concentrate on the minutiae with goalie coach Stéphane Waite.

Price is fanatical about preparation, and since the team ended a ridiculous stretch of 19 games in 37 days (12 of them on the road), there has been more time to recharge at home.

The Habs even got an unexpected snow-day reprieve from a pregame skate against Calgary, which Price referenced post-game.

This season's compressed schedule makes a convenient scapegoat, but there is a sense in the hockey world that it has been especially hard on goaltenders.

"Teams are using game-day skates as practices now … it's much harder to do goalie-specific drills," said goalie analyst Kevin Woodley of InGoal Magazine and

One of the frequent comments about Price in the past seven or eight weeks is that his movement isn't crisp, that his famously enviable biomechanics are off kilter.

There has also been an equipment change, which was immediately picked up by the more obsessive elements of goalie geekdom. As with all high-end goalies, Price is an object of fascination for myriad online forums about netminding.

Price changed his skate blades last fall but has returned to the recently discontinued model he has used for most of his life.

It's not a subject Price seemed keen to address this week, but two seasons ago he told Woodley that on past occasions where he's fiddled with his steel he felt "like I'm on skis."

Price's recent slump has coincided with a spate of Habs injuries. While it is undoubtedly a team sport, some players have a disproportionate impact on the outcome. Price is one of them.

Last year showed the Habs are sunk without him. This year demonstrates they can be pedestrian when he is short of his best (11 regulation wins in 34 games going into Thursday).

He has had an uncharacteristically poor run of repelling shots from the low slot, according to a recent analysis by Sportlogiq, a hockey-data firm.

A scoring chance like that was handed to the Flames' silky-handed Johnny Gaudreau in the opening minutes Tuesday. Price shuffled to his right then slammed the breaks and leaned left as Gaudreau let fly against the grain. Save made.

"I think he lost the puck a little bit, to be honest," Price said afterward.

He was selling himself short.

Byron said Price has an elephantine memory for tendencies and "tells." When he's right it almost seems like clairvoyance.

Plotted on a chart, the Gaudreau save may or may not figure in an upward trend.

But regression to the mean is a bedrock principle of statistics, and the math suggests it's a matter of time before Price returns to the elite goalie he's been for the past five or six seasons.

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The Canadian Press